54 people were rescued when on Tuesday, and Wednesday two boats sank off the coast of Tunisia. 14 died, authorities said Thursday (Mar. 9).
The National Guard added that the migrants were from sub-Saharan Africa without disclosing their nationalities.
People fleeing conflict or poverty take boats from Tunisian shores toward Europe, even though the central Mediterranean is the most dangerous migration route, according to the International Organization for Migration.
"When sub-Saharans came to Tunisia, it was because of the economic and social situation they were suffering in their country, lawyer Hamida Chaieb explains. "Their main objective is to cross to Europe. Like our (Tunisian) youth who dream of a better life," the Tunisian League for Human Rights member adds.
"Reduce irregular immigration"
Tunisian authorities have stepped up arrests of Africans without residency papers in recent weeks after President linked migrants to crimes. The comments fanned a surge in attacks targeting Black Africans.
"They (the authorities) don't want to let us go. If it's like that, (let) us go back to Italy. We have neither our fathers nor our mothers, if that's the way it is let us go back (to Italy)," an Ivorian migrant says.
In Brussels, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson expressed concern on Thursday about the president’s statements, saying they are "very worrying," but underlined Tunisia’s role in helping prevent migrants reaching Europe.
"Tunisia is a core country for cooperation when it comes to preventing smuggling but also when it comes to readmission of Tunisian citizens that come here and are not eligible for international protection," she told reporters.
Tunisians were among the top three nationalities — along with Egyptians and Bangladeshis — to reach Europe last year after crossing from the North African coast.